Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Expect the unexpected

January in Thailand tends to throw up some strange records of birds. Two years ago the country's first records of Collared Pratincole and Bay-backed Shrike were found wintering within a few kilometers of one another, whilst last January my local patch, a park in central Bangkok, hosted the country's first Hartert's Leaf Warbler.

The depths of "winter" mean that long-staying birds comprising extralimital records get stumbled upon by birders, and irruptive species from further north may appear in unexpected places. In short January is a good time for anything to turn up anywhere.

And so it was on Sunday whilst driving back from Bueng Borophet, giddy with my Baer's Pochard overdose that I decided to take a break and look for raptors in an area of dry rice paddies about 40km south of Nakorn Sawan. Having seen a couple of Black Kites from the main highway I found a track that took me into the fields and just followed my nose, stopping and scanning regularly, staring into the raging heat haze. I picked up more Black Kites as well as a Common Kestrel, several Black-shouldered Kites and a female Eastern Marsh Harrier, whilst Red-rumped Swallows sallied over the paddies.

I ended up taking one final randomly chosen track before heading back to the main road, but soon after getting onto this track I flushed a large passerine from the thin line of small trees and bushes on a field margin. The bird landed and when I got the binoculars on it I was astonished to see that it was a Turdus thrush, rear end on with its head to the side - it immediately looked like an Eye-browed Thrush! I switched to the camera to try to get a photo of it - this would be a rather unusual record, given that all Turdus thrushes wintering in Thailand usually favour extensively forested hills and mountains, rather than baking hot, parched lowland rice paddies. Before I could get a photo the bird flew further up the line of trees and out of sight, but on reflection I realised that this bird didn't look quite right for an Eye-browed. There was something about the intensity of the face pattern that just "felt wrong" and it reminded me very much of a photo I had seen a few weeks ago of a Grey-sided Thrush - a much rarer bird that is typically restricted to Thailand's northern mountains as a winter visitor from it's breeding grounds in north eastern China.  Confusion reigned for the next hour as I moved up and down the bird's favoured  line of cover getting brief views that only helped to reinfoced my conviction that this was indeed a Grey-sided Thrush.  I was about to give up, having lost the bird, when a final walk back along the track and flushed not one but two individuals, and eventually secured some very poor record shots that confirmed the ID as Grey-sided Thrush -  a very bizarre record of a species that BirdLife International classifies as being globally threatened!

Grey-sided Thrush

The other strange record on Sunday, initially dismissed but perhaps worthy of mention here was a Greater Flamingo spotted by our boatman at Bueng Borophet in between sightings of Baer's Pochards! This was presumed to be an escape though it was fully winged and unringed and it had never been seen before by the boatmen. After a bit of web surfing I learned that Greater Flamingo has an extensive winter range acros much of the Indian sub-continent, making it less sedentary than Bay-backed Shrike and so arguably there is some scope for a genuine vagrant...maybe!

anybody lost a pinkie?

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